A man once asked Swami Vivekananda about the reason behind all misunderstandings. His answer was, “We see people as we are, but not as they are.” I was amazed by this response as it made a lot of sense.
As the very word suggests, a misunderstanding occurs when we mistake the meaning or the intent of words or actions. In any situation, everyone involved enters with a certain perception or impression of what has occurred. A misunderstanding happens when we close our minds to all other perceptions that are different from our own ideas. When faced with a new concept, we tend to get defensive of our thoughts.
What Swami Vivekananda tried to tell us is that we should step away from our dogmas. If we want to clear misunderstandings, don’t just put yourself in their shoes, but look at it with their eyes too. Often times, we put our self in the other person’s shoes but still retain our stubborn ideas and judge harshly.
My idea behind this post is to give food for thought. I do not intend to pass judgement or tell you how to think. We are all capable of thinking on our own, but we might need a little guidance on picking the right path. I only hope to help you pick the right path.
Most of the classic Indian movies are built around strong emotional values that are based on family, friendship, love etc. It is always the emotional decisions that win in the end. This is one of the fundamental differences that I see between Hollywood movies and Indian cinema. But, I am not here to discuss movie plots, rather I would like to highlight the futility of emotional decisions as against more informed decisions. As always, this post is also inspired by a random thought that I had while retrospecting on a few choices I made in the past. As is the purpose of all retrospection, I was thinking back on where the priorities changed and what moved my path to its current course.
I have always been a bit of an emotional person. I have known this about myself and always tried to make sure that it does not colour my judgement. I would like to say I was successful at doing it, but it would be a lie. I was, in fact, retrospecting to see how many of my decisions were taken emotionally. This made me realise something about myself. I saw that most of my strongest memories were an assortment of emotions that I experienced at that time rather than the exact details. For example, when I think back to my sister’s marriage, I don’t remember the menu or my favourite dish or what was said about the bride or the groom or the elaborate rituals that we followed that day. I only remember that the food served was a simple and traditional cuisine that everybody enjoyed. I loved the curry that I ate (though I do not remember what it was). etc. I enjoyed that day and I returned home dog-tired. Same was the case when I tried to recollect the day I got my job. It was a hot summer day, I remember I had a headache due to sunstroke. I remember taking my mum along because I was new to the place and I had no friends to help me. I don’t remember the questions asked by the interviewer or how many rounds there were. All I remember was just the hot sun, the headache, the long distance travelled and my joy after getting the job.
This realisation made me understand why I took emotional decisions. My mind mostly stored what I felt at different stages of my life and ignored all the finer details. So, every time I made a decision, I always made sure that I did not end feeling specific emotions. What I am trying to say is, I made all my decisions so that my loved ones or I did not have to face disappointment, hunger, anger, loss or failure. I always tried to protect myself and the people I care for, from harsh reality. I did not take a risk and always made safe decisions, lest I end up feeling tasting failure or disappointment.
I forgot the fact that failure and disappointment are, after all, stepping stones to success. We have to face them to learn the lessons that will shape a future that fits us best. Every time we make a decision, we have to weigh in the facts, the pros and cons, rather than limiting our self to a fixed course of action so that we do not face the unknown. As my grandmother says, only when we taste sour will sweet taste sweeter.
Self Awareness quite literally means to be aware of one’s true self. It means to be aware of the true worth, one’s strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of the honest truth about oneself that we mostly hide. It sounds like a very philosophical and spiritual matter that sages and dreamers speak of. However, it is an essential and practical requirement that everyone needs to know.
Let me start with a simple example to explain the relevance. Many times, we perceive our self-image to be one thing, though in reality, our true self is very different from our own perception. Our perception of self might suggest that we are honest, straight-talking individuals or that we can give as good as we get etc. However, when the time comes to actually display these qualities, many of us are unable to. We are held back by fear or personal gain or sometimes apathy. We might give reasons for backing down, but the truth remains that we do not display any of these attributes. I do not want to speak of just negative instances. Sometimes, we might consider our self as weak or timid, yet when faced with the situation, we display great bravery and courage.
This may well be the truth about half of all people. So, how does self-awareness help us in such a situation? When I am fully aware of my abilities and my limitations, then I can be prepared better. When I am not brave enough to stand alone, I will first seek out those who are brave enough and take their support. When I need to be heard, I will speak through those who have a competent voice. We can build strong teams and work together to overcome each other’s weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.
This might seem very whimsical and simplistic at first glance. It, however, requires great strength of mind and will power to be really honest about our limitations and weaknesses. Once we have found our weaknesses, it is crucial to align our self with the right people. We have to set aside our ego, look at the bigger picture, shed any inhibition we have etc. We all experience this on a smaller scale at different stages in life, be it the workplace, family or friends and college life.
Most of the time, self-awareness takes place unintentionally, or it goes unnoticed. We must change this and start focusing on our self more. Seek out situations to find more about our self and take to mind the lessons we learn. This will lay a strong foundation for a better and more peaceful future.